Tough Montanans

Like most of the upper half of the country, we think spring is taking her sweet time coming.  Here it is April and we got 5 inches of snow today.  Of course, it’s early in the season, but enough already!  Here in Montana most of us have outdoor things to do and won’t let a little cold, nasty weather stop us.  At least not most of the time.

I learned this week that, before any green leaves have popped out and only the slightest bit of green grass is showing, it’s the best time for fishing!  But long before grass showed itself, often too covered in snow to be seen, I’ve seen hardy Montanans out there fishing, wading over the ice-caked shoreline and into the riffles.  This last week fishing rafts are coming out.

 I don’t know if it’s fish those rugged ones are after or they just want to be relaxing in the middle of a Montana stream.  The scenery can’t be beat.  And the tradeoffs are worth it!  Having the river to yourself is paradise, the only sound besides the rippling water being an occasional goose honk. 

Ice shelves and floating crystals only decorate the river’s edge in hard winter.  Walking a quiet, snow-packed trail and seeing no one is a treat.  That won’t be happen come spring. 

Coco and I venture out daily, often visiting one of the river trails, though Coco prefers wading at a river’s edge, not on the trail.  I try to be a good mom as she spends the better part of our outings swatting at floating leaves and feathers.  I don’t know how she does it in 30-degree temperatures.  There are many drainage ditches along the roads and trails here, and Coco is just as happy slopping around in those.

Sometimes Montanans want to get out in the woods so bad they don’t make good decisions.  Like me thinking the road to a recommended hiking trail would be thawed. 

Guess I haven’t been here long enough to not do stupid things  😦 I was able to turn around and not get stuck. Sure was pretty though! I’ll send pics of that road when trails are dry, grass is green and fresh leaves blow in a warm breeze!


For a Limited Time Only

Here in Montana, and I’m sure lots of other places, we’re ready for winter to be over.   It’s time for clear trails, warm sun and something green and growing.  But I have to admit, there’s awesome trade offs to all this cold. 

Coco doesn’t always like the cold either.  Mom makes her wear a sweater, sometimes a sweater and a coat, but I tell her it’s for her own good.  Typical kid, she doesn’t believe me.  

Surprisingly, she loves poking around the edges of the river, playing with leaves and feathers floating by, soaking her feet and seeming oblivious that the water is just degrees above freezing. Sadly, she likes walking through muddy curbs and gutters too.  She slips and slides on ice just like I do, but she’s lower to the ground and doesn’t mind.  It’s worth it for her to be out exploring, sniffing and discovering new things to taste.

The river provides the most dramatic artwork.  It changes with each freeze and thaw.  There are three river parks that we visit and a couple of canals, and there’s always something to see.  Sometimes I have to take pictures quickly before Coco caves in a pretty formation.   Many are such a marvel I can hardly believe them, and if I don’t snap a shot right then it may never appear the same again.  I’ve gone to check on decorative ice days later and it’s either gone, reformed into something else amazing, or completely gone, the river’s edge thawed and water flowing fast. 

You’ve gotta love other seasons for the same reasons.   Spring will bring short-lived joys also, tulips and apple blossoms.  They’ll be gone before we know it.  Green grass, lilacs and wildflowers will fade into summer and we’ll complain about the heat, and then miss it when the first frost comes.  Love the blessings of all of them.  To every thing there is a season.  

Road Trip with Mom

I always love going in the truck with mom.  It always means we’ll go for a walk some place where I can poke around and smell all the smells and get my feet wet and chase feathers.  Usually.  Yesterday, though, we just drove and drove.  Sometimes fast and sometimes slow.  Mom grumbled about ice and something called fog.  We finally stopped at one place that kinda smelled familiar but we didn’t stay long.  There was snow but no river to wade in.

We finally got to a place where mom wasn’t driving long, just lots of little stops.  She got out of the truck a lot and didn’t take me.  One place she brought back some French fries in a napkin and they were yummy!   One place she took me with her inside a building with some people who all petted me.  There were big yellow things that I remember seeing before.

I slept a lot.  I had on my warm sweater so I was fine but I didn’t need that much sleep. 

And then we finally went to a house where I could go in but not off my leash.  Some things called cats live there and one was supposed to be mean.  Another one swatted me and made a funny noise.  I wanted to play with one but it just wasn’t sure about me so we didn’t get to be friends.

Before more driving to go home mom finally took me to our favorite park on the lake.  We couldn’t find the lake though.   We walked all over and there were still fun smells and icy rocks and places to poke.  I found a couple good feathers but no water.  Mom didn’t say where the lake went but I sure wish I could have had a cold drink and played in it.  

Then lots more driving and sleeping.  I was sure glad to get home!


Transitions are on my mind, not because of the time of year but because of months of huge changes in my life.  Long in the making, every decision was mine, initiated by age, lifestyle, finances and maybe a little need for adventure.  Certainly an adventure is what I got!  One decision leads to another, some more difficult than others.   Sometimes timing is an issue and good life-changing transitions shouldn’t be rushed.  Ha.

If you google the word “transitions”, examples of it being used in a sentence are the first definitions to come up.   One example is of contrast, using words like however, instead, and still.  Sometimes those words do, in fact, apply to my decision processes.  Like I loved my house in the woods, however, pine cones were no longer my friends.

Other examples imply the result of something – thus, consequently, hence, etc.  In my case, I sold my house, so, consequently, had to find a house to buy.  Easier said than done in today’s world.  I debated waiting, but for how long and for what?  And, hence, I found a cute little house that spoke to me and I made a major decision.

Another example of transition words represent contrast.  Like I wanted a rural setting but, still, a house in town sounded nice.  Or instead of a condo I chose a little house with a yard.

Of course, I worry that all the transitions I’ve initiated are the right ones.   Only time will tell.  There’s been frustration and unanticipated expenses.  The trick I’m continually working on is how I handle all the struggle, hopefully with grace.  Admittedly, the level of grace varies.  Chris Stapleton has a great song that speaks to me.  Lyrics include:

“This might not be an easy time.  There’s rivers to cross and hills to climb.  And some days we might fall apart.” 

I’m not expecting to fall apart.  No struggle at all transitioning to retirement, a miracle I’m still marveling over.  Every day I enjoy exploring some treasure in my new town.  I’m making good progress settling into my new home.  I’m far enough along that I’ve started hanging artwork and putting out photos.   Each of my photos represents some kind of past transition, an adventure or celebration that makes me smile.  I’ve come far and I’m grateful for every step. 

Chris sings “Some day we’ll look back and smile, and know it was worth every mile.”  I think I’m already there.  The transitions and compromises I’ve made to get here are the result of lots of practice, some foolish and careful decisions, hard lessons and knowing when to count blessings.  I’m in a good place. 

Moments of Perfection

I’ve been in Montana eighteen years now.  I think about other places but I can’t imagine leaving here.  Weather is not the best, though every place has its issues, I know.   Maybe too much snow or rain, heat or wind.  I knew there’d be hard winters here, with long dormant periods, waiting and waiting for the ice to melt, the mud to dry up and the spring winds to quit.  It wasn’t long before I discovered the moments of perfection between spring and summer that make up for all the rest.   Mostly anyway 😊 

Winter has its moments.  I’m not a skier but I can appreciate the beauty of fresh snow, ice crystals and the colors of a winter sky.  All these pictures are just on my property but beauty extends for hundreds of miles. There is the endless blooming balsam root, and tucked in between are shooting stars, larkspur, old man’s whiskers, penstemon, glacier lilies, and frittilaries! The spring winds have stopped, we get occasional rain and temps can reach the 70s! Oh my goodness, so much to love.For about two weeks it’s woodland perfection!

It’s dog heaven here, regardless of the weather.  There is much to explore and sniff down the back of our property.  We’ve seen hundreds of deer, the occasional coyote and fox, one elk and one wolf, and I’d imagine dog noses could spend endless hours exploring.

Without going anywhere I have good examples of weather of all kinds, but right now is the very best.  Hillsides of blooming balsam root stretching for miles helps keep perspective when the same view is foggy and frozen, though blessings are many then too, as long as you’re well bundled 😀

Spring Break

This year spring break meant a spring escape.  There’s always a few chores to do but I got those finished up quickly and then headed out of town.  It was time to catch up on some Montana history so off I went. 

I headed east to Helena.  Of course, I have to get off at a fishing access of the Blackfoot, for the dogs to wet their feet and for me to take pics – it’s a Montana icon.   

Then I took a little side trip to Lincoln.  I’ve been there to watch the start of a sled dog race in the late winter but this time I went to an outside sculpture park.  The weather was perfect and the park charming.  Here’s the site if any of you are nearby.  It’s free and dog friendly.  This was my favorite one:

Then on to Helena.  Montana geology, even blasting by on the highways, is amazing, even when you don’t know anything about it.  Colored striations, tumbling layers of stone, stacks of blocks, piles of boulders.  Thus, apparently, prime for mining with lots of old and new operations going.  The downtown area of Helena is well restored for an old mining town.  Placer mining was the main source of riches so there’s no pit or caves to look at but lots of amazing architecture.  There’s still examples of mining era housing and stores.  No sign of the red light district 😊  There’s a fire tower standing watch over town and it made for nice vistas and exercising the kids. 

I visited one of the museums, which has a room dedicated to Charlie Russell.  I’ve seen displays of his before and it’s always fun to see brush strokes actually placed by him.  A treat!

The idea that prompted the trip was wanting to see ghost towns.  Elkhorn was right on the way home, swinging around to the south of Butte, so that was my next adventure.  Another incredible drive, out in the hills by myself enjoying new scenery, more geology and wildlife, including a shy moose who wouldn’t allow a picture.  It was still winter up in those mountains with icicles and icy side roads. 

The town seems so isolated but it’s still the residence of a number of hardy souls living in vintage mining buildings, so it was easy to picture it as it was 120 years ago, smoking rising from a stone chimney, all quiet like on a holiday from the hard occupation of silver mining. Worth the trip.

Butte was a nice surprise.  I’d only been through there briefly a long time ago but this time the impression was better.  There are blocks and blocks of vintage buildings from 100 years ago and original headframes drawing your eyes up into the surrounding hills.  The open-pit mining operation is ongoing and huge.  Much less restoration has been done here compared to Helena, and it was easier to get the historic feel of the early mining district.  I’ll be visiting again.

I stopped in the town of Deer Lodge as I blasted home.  There’s an historic ranch there that’s been on my list for years of places I’d like to visit.  Though just a big old ranch, it’s a historic place (dating back to cattle drive days) that’s been well preserved with much to see and poke through.  And the scenery was breathtaking.  Having no entry fee, I’d stop by there in a second when down that way again just to see what kind of show the mountains were putting on with the foreground of w fences, wagons, vintage buildings, and beaver slide hay stackers. 

Staying in a hotel with two dogs is challenging – I was glad to get home.  But we had a fun escape, saw new places, learned a few things, and feel blessed, once again, to live in Montana!

Love/Hate Relationship

Winter – how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways – on one hand 😊  It’s oh so pretty when the first snows come.  It glistens and sparkles and evokes white holidays.  The quiet is calming and peaceful. 

Cause sometimes it’s darn cold. There’s shoveling. And ice that won’t shovel. And scary roads.

Doggies love snow. It’s good for snorkeling and jumping in. And rolling in and eating and wondering about! What is all that cold, white stuff? Darn, sometimes in gets packed in paws and is hard to get out. Ouch.

Sometimes the cold does funny things!

Sometimes the season makes art out of ordinary things.

It’s great for knowing who comes and goes, and which direction they’re going.

Sometimes there’s magic.

The trick is to relish every gift and remember the trade offs are worth it.  I think 😉

Middle of the Road

Yep, I haven’t posted anything for a year. Shame on me. Sometimes there are words and sometimes there aren’t. No excuse, really, I’m going to try to do better. The below essay is old, from 2006. It was my first published story, in an online magazine, Salome. I came across it while looking for something else recently and since I’ve never posted it here I decided to share. Sadly, 15 years after writing it it’s still applicable to my lost feeling but every day is closer to a goal that will eventually show itself 🙂 This is based on a trip I took to Garnet, Montana. I don’t have pictures but it can be seen online. Enjoy:

For me, when life issues need serious contemplation, a road trip is the only solution.  A pounding stereo and zipping white lines eventually peter out to some quiet back road, allowing me to get the proper perspective, the proper setting for serious ruminations.  My current life issue is turning fifty.  For this impending mid-life crisis, I found myself in the hills outside of Missoula, Montana, visiting a ghost town complete with intact sections of sidewalks, storefronts, miners’ cabins, a community hall and numerous outhouses – bits and pieces of past lives.  Thoughts of my own life’s struggles pale when I consider the circumstances these hardy souls faced.  Their trials were life and death, from travel and cold to isolation and mining accidents.  Hard work, home life and playtime are reflected in the weathered remains that are more than just empty buildings and the blank stares of dark windows.  Several buildings still have flowered wallpaper with patterns in blue and pink.  Tattered curtains lifted in the breeze where someone once enjoyed the view.  I listened for their voices.  Their presence was palpable and I knew they were watching, peering silently from the past.  We have shared the same misgivings, apprehensions, joys and accomplishments – we are kindred spirits.  Moving here had seemed reasonable, logical even, hopefully profitable, but the mines played out and new decisions had to be made.  The road out of this valley, looking back at good or bad choices, may have been defeating, facing an uncertain future, or perhaps a new adventure full of promise.  Their mindset would determine the outcome, and they moved on.

The obvious metaphor was not lost on me.  At fifty, being single and still having no clue what I want to be when I grow up, I feel I am leaving a valley cloaked in the mist of yet-to-be-made decisions.  I squint with my presbyopic eyes but can’t seem to focus on that far horizon.  The sides of the road disappear in a fog, giving no clue as to whether the grass is greener out there or not.  The road ahead is corduroy rough.  There is no fork, sign, mileage marker, arrow or defining white line.  No choice seems clear except to move forward.  The need to hesitate is strong.  One more step seems impossible.  I have moved all over the west.  I grew up in and loved Arizona but needed to see what else was out there.  I lived in San Diego for ten years, was married there, and enjoyed the California lifestyle.  When I left there I was on my own again, with sojourns in Alaska, Washington and Montana.  Move after move with my stuff and my dog, character building and adrift.  Still I don’t know where I’m going.  I turn and look back but only see my own ghost towns and haunted places.  I keep my own blues and pinks and tattered curtains, along with their lasting significance, forever in my heart.

This spot in the road is not a bad place, just not where I expected to be in my middle age.  Stability and financial security, the all-American dreams, should be close to reality by now but divorce, bankrupt employers, company cutbacks, union rules and plain old wanderlust have guided my route so far, curvy and bumpy, sometimes scary and wild, anything but smooth.  Breakdowns threatened.  Maps blew away in the wind.  The route veered away from any optimistically planned course.  Sometimes unexpected and wondrous things happened, things I never hoped to see or do in my lifetime.  I have flown to the bottom of the Grand Canyon by helicopter, watched buffalo standing in the morning mist of a Yellowstone winter, and been awestruck beneath curtains of northern lights in Alaska.  I learned that solitude can be a blessing.   I’ve had new friends enrich my life before pointing me in yet new directions.

The deserted town is peaceful now, perfect for quiet reflection and possible answers to my questions.  I’m sitting on a bench in the shade of the old hotel, perhaps sharing it with a ghostly predecessor, hoping to absorb their timeless insight.  After all this contemplation, have I come up with any conclusions?  Received any flashes of inspiration or old-age wisdom?  Only comforting, encouraging adages come to mind, things like “the best is yet to come”, “with age comes wisdom”, “we turn not older with years but newer every day.”  Would I do things differently, maybe change the players or my roles in the past?  You bet!  I would not have been oblivious to clues that my husband was choosing drugs over me.  My family would have been hugged closer, and I would not have left that great job.  What’s his name would not have broken my heart, and I would not have bolted in fear that so-and-so would break it too.  Given the chance, I would have savored the journey that much more, made it with more awareness, and been totally present for those rare moments of pure grace.  Maybe they are the same things everyone would change, the same lessons we would all choose to learn differently or with more maturity.  I suspect I’m in good company with other boomers contemplating the cards they’ve been dealt.  We are kindred spirits.

Some people tell me they envy the place I stand – anonymous, adept, open to any capricious thought, the adventurous possibilities of that uncharted road, and yet I often wish I could travel their safe, settled and partnered paths.  Is there enduring stability and contentment on either path?

And so I leave this bucolic, hospitable little valley with a fresh outlook.  I will make my choices and venture out with my own determined mindset.  My conclusions are the simple lessons of more old adages, learning to stop and smell the roses, to be happy for the bird in the hand and the grass on my side of the fence, to maybe take the road less traveled and see it with clarity, enjoying every step, and resolutely moving forward to a new place farther up the trail.

Creative Cold

Sometimes the cold weather can be a good thing.   You may have to stretch your imagination a bit but I find myself using it for creative in-the-house-where-it’s-warm time.  Two cold snaps ago I decided my puppy, Coco, needed a little jacket, being under 10 lbs. and us already having single-digit temps.   I came across an old corduroy shirt, the sleeves long worn out but still nice fabric that I’d kept around for who knows what. 

Then “what” happened, and my puppy got a red jacket.  It makes me smile because once upon a time I had my picture taken wearing that shirt posing with my first cocker, about 30 years ago.  Whoda guessed?!

Another future memory is the paintings I made of my puppy’s foot prints, the front ones anyway.  I wanted them to be her baby prints.   I made a piece of art out of Coop’s foot prints several years ago.  It was an outside project on a warm day, him being bigger and more controllable.


Coco was a different story.  I laid everything out on the counter, prepped as I could be for the coming mess.  She had no clue what was going on and wasn’t the least bit interested in knowing or cooperating.  I haven’t groomed her at all yet so her feet are very hairy, in all directions…

…not to mention wiggly and thrashing.  

I got a few good smears out of six or eight tries, not bad all things considered!  Then I had to clean hairy, red-painted feet and the remaining mess.  I picked the best four works of art and finished off three of them, my sister thinking the yellow/orange one looking like leaves. 

It was a fun project from start to finish.  I haven’t decided which one to frame yet but they already make me smile with the memories.  I can’t wait to see what our next cold front will produce!

State of Wonder

As with a child, watch a puppy learn and explore and tilt her head with curiosity and it will give you, too, a new perspective.   I just got a tiny cocker spaniel puppy.  Her name is Coco Puff and she is, of course, the cutest puppy ever.   She has startling blue eyes that watch my every move. 

She watches my face carefully when I tickle her tummy, trying hard to understand.   Saying something in baby talk, like “tickle, tickle” causes her to take a double take – what a funny sound that is!

Also as with children, she keeps me on my toes, carefully watching she doesn’t get hurt in this giant world or eat something she shouldn’t.   Sleep is a challenge now for me, as are clean floors, but who could look at that face and not fall in love?  

Her short life has had lots of siblings and bigger dogs in it, a teenager and her parents, but I’m surprised at the sounds that amaze her.   She wonders about the sound of coffee brewing, maybe she hasn’t heard that before!  It makes funny gurgling sounds up on the counter.   I’m now enjoying that sound as much as the great smell! She’s taught me to pay attention to little things.   A vacuum is too scary to check out, best keep it at a distance, certainly too big to play with.   I agree with her on that one!  😊  Both the TV and the stereo are amazing noise makers.  She just stared at the TV when she realized it was one, due to a funny noise coming out of it, but the stereo speakers required much head cocking to try to fully hear and understand.  They both remain mysteries.

Coco’s big brother has very dangly ears.  Coop never thought about this before and has no clue why Coco would find them so much fun to yank on.  

Overall, he’s not happy with this new situation.  While there’s no sibling rivalry, Coop is bearing up as best he can but gives me lots of questioning looks.  I try to give him plenty of love and attention but sometimes it’s hard with Coco chewing on her wicker bed, one of my shoes, or investigating what she’s up to when it’s too quiet.  

Outside is a mysteries world that needs exploring and tasted.  I’m not sure how much time she spent outdoors in her first 8 weeks of life but I’m guessing not much.  Leaves and pine cones are fascinating.  That dry stick?  What a great chew toy!  She wonders about sounds in the sky – like the two ravens calling from the trees.  And the chirp of a squirrel, oh my!   Sometimes she sits by the back fence looking out over the big world down the back.  So much to wonder about and when can we go explore down there?

 It’s turned chilly now and I had my first fire of the season a couple weeks ago.   Truly something to enjoy and wonder about!